Friday, January 11, 2019

January 13 Open Poetry Reading - Featuring Tobi & Jeff Alfier

Come help us celebrate the publication of Cholla Needles #25! January's featured readers are Tobi & Jeff Alfier. Tobi's recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. Jeff's recent collection is  Anthem for Pacific Avenue. They are the editors of San Pedro River Review, and curators of Blue Horse Press. Start your 2019 poetry adventure here in Joshua Tree at this exciting event!  

We will also have 50 minutes of open reading! Come early and sign up! We ask each reader to read one short poem so everyone who wishes to participate has an opportunity. All participants in issue 25 will receive their contributor's copy at the reading. See you there!

We welcome your poems for future issues! Click on the submissions button to the right for simple guidelines. Your generous financial support has given us the ability to continue our mission of sharing great poetry with local audiences. Thank you!


Tobi Alfier - Editors are Essential

Editors are Essential for Publishers as well as Poets!

Last June 29th I wrote a blog about editors, and how I learned the hard way that having an editor review your work prior to submitting or publishing is good, and necessary.

I always thought that when you submit a manuscript to a publisher, it was assumed that you had dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s. I thought a clean manuscript was a condition of being accepted for publication. Apparently that’s not always true.

I am in a publisher’s group on my beloved Facebook. Publishers ask interesting questions that, as a poet, I never considered (even though I am also a co-editor and co-publisher).

A couple days ago, someone asked:

“Is there any polite way to tell a publisher that the books he/she publishes are compelling, but urgently in need of copyediting/gentle line editing? This problem has cropped up with two small publishers I've bought books from recently, and it's just painful. Problems include typos, incorrect words that sound the same (e.g. "cubical" when "cubicle" is meant), massive repetitions of words/phrases (e.g. four occurrences of "conducive to" inside of a couple of pages), etc. It is very distracting…”

The comments back to this person were very surprising and actually made her feel bad for asking. Some publishers said they were small presses (true). They had no staff (true). They couldn’t afford to edit for free (true). Authors didn’t want to pay for editing services (true).

Still, these are publishers who build their reputations on the work they publish. As an author, you also build your reputation on your work. There are some things you won’t know until you see a proof – quirks of the software and so forth, but the words that are being printed…I think that’s on you.

photo art by mohamed hassan
How would you feel if someone returned a book of yours because there were so many errors it was distracting to read? I know how I’d feel. I know that press would probably never publish me again. That person might never buy a book of mine again. That’s money!

This is just a reminder to have your work read by someone else before you submit it for publication, especially if it’s an entire manuscript. It could be a paid editor or an eagle-eyed friend who will tell you the truth. Not many people can afford to buy whatever they want, whenever they want. If you want them to buy your work, it’s not enough that they like you. Make sure it looks good.

Note: For those of you in the Joshua Tree area, Jeff and I are very excited to feature for you this Sunday, January 13th at Space Cowboy Books. We look forward to the open mic and can’t wait to meet you!

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Tobi Alfier - And Now We Have 2019

We didn’t even stay up to watch the ball drop in New York. My husband Jeff was jet-lagged, I’m always tired. We didn’t hear a single firecracker, no one called us at midnight. We did what we always do – wake up, kiss each other good morning, say “Happy New Year”, then go check for acceptances and rejections.

Now you know why, after taking a “crossing genres” class with Mark Doty, I said “I learned that I will never write a memoir because I’m so boring, not even I would read it!” I hope your evening, and upcoming year, are everything you want it to be.

Did you make any resolutions? Real ones, not ones that were broken before the night was over? I didn’t even think of making any until the question was asked in my LinkedIn group – Poetry Editors and Poets. I could barely think of three:

  1. Submit to one contest a month. I never win anything. It’s my way of being a good literary citizen by making small donations here and there. If the contest fee includes a one year subscription to a journal I enjoy, it’s a win-win.

  1. Diligently continue this blog for the whole year. I appreciate those of you who read this. You help keep me focused on poetry. You remind me to write in a way that’s understandable and current. This blog is for me as much as it is for you, and I am very thankful to write it.

  1. Have you heard of the “30/30”? During April, National Poetry Month, the idea is to write 30 poems in 30 days. My goal is to write ten good poems that I can submit and that will be published. I don’t care about writing 30 crummy poems just to say I did it. If you’ve ever done this before, or never tried it before, start thinking about whether this is a challenge you want to try in 2019.

You have three months to get in the habit of finding poetry in everything, from the beauty of a hawk flying in a cloudless sky, to the person buying Spam, cat food, and asparagus in line behind you at the store. Everything can become poetic; practice observing. Practice eavesdropping. Practice writing. Get ready for April!  

Those are the only resolutions I made.

As you may know, January 13th Jeff and I are the featured readers on behalf of the Cholla Needles Magazine poetry reading series at Space Cowboy Books. There is also an open mic. I am very much looking forward to meeting you and hearing your poems!  Those of you who read this blog and who are local have an advantage over us: you’ve been to these, we haven’t. Any comments or suggestions you can offer below will be gratefully accepted.

We’ve seen pictures of the readings but don’t know the audience. We don’t know if there will be kids there. We rarely have curse words in our poems, just so you know. The reading will be G Rated.

I currently have copies of three books: “Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where, “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies, and “The Color of Forgiveness. They will be available at Space Cowboy Books. The same will go for Jeff’s books.

Full disclosure – I used to only cry in Texas. Even though I practice and practice, something will make me cry and my poems aren’t even sad!!! My apologies in advance. Please bring Kleenex if you are easily influenced.

Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” was published by our very own Rich Soos and Cholla Needles Press. Our other books were by different publishers.

The Color of Forgiveness” is the only collaborative book Jeff and I have ever made. There are some poems by me, some by Jeff, many where our stanzas are woven together to make new poems, and many of Jeff’s beautiful black and white photos. You cannot tell who wrote what. The compilation was done by Michael Dwayne Smith, editor of Mojave River Press and Review.  A sample poem is below.

See you on the 13th!!

How Jo Beth Came to Love
the Sabbath Crow Sky

Clouds are the lecture hall of God.
High cirrus wisps are tears of women
walking the Widow’s Walk, waiting
for their men to come home from sea.

[ Immersed in the distance, her
serrated wings are stained gray
by the marine layer trundling in
off the morning ocean surf.]

Cumulus are the beefy bullies in
the football uniforms of the universe.
If they had sound, and sometimes they do,
they would be the drum line announcing their
arrival, daring anyone not to notice.

The broom of wind, sweeping dust off
the hearth of heaven, sometimes a promenade
of sociability and others a run for cover. And always
the birds, riding the highs and lows, gliders over invisible
peaks caused by air, the hidden sea, from below.

[ Like the rest of us, she breaks the Sabbath,
dark semaphore of Hebrew wilderness,
glutton of sea and earth, living and dead,
aloft in the damp solitude of air above
houses lining my street.]

Birds don’t take meteorology class, they just know.

[ She eyes my pale lawn
that grows anything but green.]

Gray or any shade turning toward dawn,
or blue, she would lie on the grass, red
velvet blanket wrapped around her for warmth.

She would climb
into the stories
of the sky.

From squirrels jumping
from roof to tree,
to a web shining

with droplets of dew,
to the helicopter heard
but not seen until long

past overhead,
destination unknown
and wide-eyed.

[ All day I’ve watched as she and kin
glide toward dusk, fallen light
having faded their wings, as if

to take them back, blackness melding
with black, like meteors that would burn out
those times I’d lay on my back as a child

watching summer night sky.
I had crawled out my bedroom window
to stare in peace, as now, I sit
on the curb, the ember of my last smoke
burning holes in the dark.]

There’s a lot you can imagine.

- - - -

Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cholla Needles 25 - January Release!

Cover by Kim Martin
The fine poetry & stories in issue 25 are by

Tobi Alfier
Jeff Alfier
Noreen Lawlor
George Howell
Dave Maresh
Kim Martin
Jody Azzouni
Simon Perchik
Thomas Plank

We encourage our neighbors to buy Cholla Needles books at 
Rainbow Stew, Space Cowboy, JT Coffee, and Raven's Books. 
Support our local distributors!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Not Every Subject Is Up For Grabs

I’m sure we’ve all heard that you should never date a poet, because your life can become a poem for everyone to read about. I don’t agree. I think we all have things we don’t want to write about, or feel we shouldn’t write about, and that’s okay. My husband Jeff inspires my poetry all the time, and I write about him all the time. Many of his books have poems written to me. We’re fine with that.

Listen, Tobi
by Jeffrey Alfier

We came to watch more than trawlers
drift stony miles north of our island—
all those slow clocks of commerce.
On the ferry over, nerves ran tight
when tall waves scaled the sheerline,

lustering us cold at the railing. We laugh
at it now, in this late light dimming
out of sky, trusting night birds to circle
back and hunt low—their gothic plunge
of wings, sudden wind to lift them,

like your hair, through this paling Irish
light. So let the white scrim of gulls loiter
above us. Let them screech like Cromwell’s
ghost. We’ll learn the Gaelic word for kiss
and glare at sea and sky till they dissolve

like remote music. Here, we need the stone
junctions of cemetery walls, rutted tracks
that flank them into darkened arbors of trees.
All the wildflowers that find our fists.
All the roads our maps find no name for.

For me, there are four things I don’t write about, or rarely do. The first is if something is told to me in confidence, my lips are sealed. There is no way you can change something enough so that it’s unrecognizable. Either be a trustworthy person, or write a memoir. I would like to be trusted.

I also rarely write about my divorce (2006), work, or my health. I’ll admit it, I have a poem that’s funny as hell about my divorce. It has been published, but you’re not going to read it here. It got laughs when I read it, but it is hurtful. I don’t want to be that kind of person. Maybe if I were a standup comic I’d riff on it for a while, but I’m not. I’m a poet. And that’s a subject I don’t consider poetic. The end.

Work? In forty years I’ve written probably five poems about work. And they are very well disguised. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what “Hostage Negotiation in Negative-Land” is about, but on the whole, it’s not poetic.

You’ve heard me talk from time-to-time about walking challenges, not traveling anymore, getting inspiration from Jeff when he travels and sends me photos and texts, and so on. If it ends in “-osis”, I probably have it.  Read the fiction book If Not For This by Pete Fromm. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous love story with an element of illness that says it more beautifully than I can ever say.

But that’s just me. I rarely write about it. I’ll tell you anything you want to know, but not in a poem. Other poets do write about health challenges as a way of exorcising them, or explaining them. Maybe while they’re writing, they’re not experiencing them. If you are a submitting poet, there are lots of anthologies looking for your work. There are lots of journals as well.

A wonderful journal to submit to is Kaleidoscope Magazine. It’s published by United Disability Services in Akron, Ohio. The magazine “creatively focuses on the experiences of disability through literature and the fine arts. Unique to the field of disability studies, this award-winning publication expresses the experience of disability from the perspective of individuals, families, friends, healthcare professionals, educators and others”.

(Under guidelines): “The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges and overcomes stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disability. We accept the work of writers with and without disabilities; however the work of a writer without a disability must focus on some aspect of disability. The criteria for good writing apply: effective technique, thought-provoking subject matter, and in general, a mature grasp of the art of story-telling. Writers should avoid using offensive language and always put the person before the disability.”

They accept previously published work, and they pay.

I really do believe everybody has something challenging. Not everyone writes about it. If you do, and you’d like to see it in print, Kaleidoscope may be an opportunity for you.

Under the Bridge

Sometimes she doesn’t have enough skin to cover her knees.
She can’t really explain it but they nod and say
“Yes, I know”, jotting notes to remember for next time
so she doesn’t feel so alone.  They always ask about her son,
and now they will ask about her knees.
Her legs hallucinate—static charges blossom
up her feet; they jump like marionettes.
She thinks she wears the “scarlet letters”
by the way she walks, but they are only
on the inside.  No one knows.

She holds her breath in the tunnel under the covered bridge,
wishes for good fortune for those who surround her.
The bridge is long, she passes out, wakes up in an ambulance.
The nurse recognizes the pendant she is wearing
from the last time. She is identified and given an ultrasound
before fully alert. She nods and says “Oh no, not this again”.

There are berries at home, she must eat the berries.
There is a whole quart of milk, and messages to return.
The gardener waits for his check, shirt unbuttoned
to the belt, the cowboy hat shading his eyes and smile.
Mundane trivialities do not want to wait,
but the IV means she will be here for a while.

Could someone please turn up the light
and bring her some books?

- - - -

Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Friday, December 7, 2018

December 9 - Open Poetry Reading, Featuring Dave Maresh

December's featured reader is Dave Maresh. Dave is the author of Garage Band, a fun collection of short stories sure to fill your holiday spirits with joy. Dave is also the author of  A Book That Turned Up One Day, poems guaranteed to tickle your funny bone.  

We will also have 50 minutes of open reading! Come early and sign up! We ask each reader to read one short poem so everyone who wishes to participate has an opportunity. All participants in issue 24 will receive their contributor's copy at the reading. See you there!

We welcome your poems for future issues! Poets and Writers ( are helping us to sponsor the featured reader with matching funds from our wonderful audience. Your generous financial support has given us the ability to match funds through December, 2018. Thank you!


Tobi Alfier - Errors, Quirks, (and Oxford Commas)

I mentioned in my blog on editors that I was the sixth grade spelling bee champion. My husband and I still read each other’s poems before we finalize and submit them, both for edits to consider, and typos. Thank goodness we do this. I didn’t know I had no idea how to spell “Morse Code”.

I have also mentioned that I have a dear friend, Ricki Mandeville. Ricki is a beautiful poet and brilliant editor. She calls herself my son’s “Oxford Comma Mama”. I think only the two of them understand it enough to explain it, although many of us use it correctly without knowing. If you have a chance to read Ricki’s work, stop everything and read it right away at Gravel. 

Anyway, that blog post was about editors. This post is about errors. The goal is to help you write the best poems possible, and capture your readers forever.

In my opinion, spelling is a fatal error. Almost everything else can be rationalized as style. If you punctuate like hell, you should pay more attention to it, but it could also be style. If you write in vernacular— that’s style.

I have a couple of personal peeves, but would I reject a submission because of them? Not if the poems were great. It’s style.

If you use neologisms, for example a word like “whisperwinter” to describe falling snow, or use nouns as verbs or vice versa—you will find your niche with readers and editors. Some people will love you, and some won’t. Newsflash—it will be that way no matter how you write.

If you use foreign words or phrases in a poem, you may wish to include their translation at the bottom. They may not always be easy to interpret, and you don’t want it to cause your readers to give up on you. Time spent googling a phrase is time away from reading your work. You don’t ever want that to happen. The poem below, written by my husband, is not his usual subject matter. He spent a long time deciding whether or not to include a translation. He’s glad he did.

- - - -

The Partisan
Belgrade, 1944
            by Jeffrey Alfier

The soldier, too long in the wreck of years,
stands now with his arms raised,
weapon jammed, Ich gebe auf
rasping its way out of his dry throat,
meeting the tunnel of his captor’s eyes:
a young woman of indeterminate years,
chambering rounds with her small fingers.
He’s fast against the flaking cement
of the wall behind him as she pins
the wrists of his upheld hands,
her fists feeling his bloodbeat there
so she will better know the musk
of his breath, homesickness on his skin,
the soft remembered thud of her bullet.

Ich gebe auf: German: I surrender

The Partisan was previously published in CopperNickel

- - - -

If you try something special or different in your writing, and you should, at some point you’re going to make an error. Make sure you have good linebreaks and your spelling is perfect. Everything else is style, voice, or can be explained. Sometimes…often…errors make a poem the way it was supposed to be all along.

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.